The Beauty of the World
She was furious. How could she not be? She felt completely and utterly betrayed, but at the same time, the self-doubt crept in. Maybe it was her fault this happened. Maybe she didn’t love him enough or treasure him enough. No, no, that wasn’t it. She gave everything to him, and it was thrown back in her face. On their honeymoon none the less. How ridiculous was that?! She walked in on him, in their honeymoon suite, with a girl he met on the plane ride here. It was sickening.
“Sylvie. I – I thought you would be gone for the evening at your yoga class.”
Not even an apology in sight. His first go to was to make excuses.
“What a weasel…” she grumbled as she plonked down on the sand. Their hotel was situated by a beach in Australia none the less. She couldn’t even run home if she wanted to. She could just hop on a plane, but she’d rather not blow through her savings doing that. More than that, the last thing she wanted to do was go home to her judgey friends and family who would somehow try and make excuses for Harrison’s shitty behaviour. She decided there and then as she sat in the sand that this was it. She wasn’t going to stick around and let him get away with it. She deserved better – and she deserved this honeymoon.
“Who’s a weasel?” she heard a voice say behind her as she jumped out of her skin and a hand flew to her heart.
“Do you make a habit of scaring the crap out of strangers you meet on the beach?” she demanded to know.
He snorted, “Only the ones mumbling to themselves.”
She turned around and looked at the guy. She was momentarily taken aback by how cute he was. His wetsuit was half on half off, he was muscular but not too muscular, sun kissed, blonde, a well-trimmed beard and had the most piercing blue eyes. He was also American, which she found oddly comforting right now – stranger or not.
“Are you uh – are you planning on surfing? In the dark?” she asked, trying to distract herself from staring at him for too long.
He dug his surfboard into the sand and rested his arm on the side of it; “There’s no better time to surf than at night.”
“Isn’t it a little dangerous?” she asked as she scrunched up her nose.
“You’re the one sitting out here alone in the dark… not sure you can judge me about danger. Besides – what’s life without a little risk anyway?” he challenged.
She rolled her eyes. “You sound like a typical, egotistical guy who thinks he can get away with anything.” She grumbled.
He quirked an eyebrow. She was clearly holding some sort of grudge but the fire he could see in her – he really liked it. There was something truly captivating about her and he found himself wanting to know more in those few short moments he spoke to her.
“Matt Casey.” He said as he extended his hand to help her up off the sand.
She looked at his hand momentarily before slightly begrudgingly accepting it. It seemed like the more graceful way to get up anyway.
“Sylvie Brett” she replied. Why the hell was she telling a stranger her name? Her parents would curse the heavens if they knew. They would feel like all the stranger-danger lessons they gave her went straight out the window.
“Alright Brett… you up for a surf?” he asked.
“Brett? Do you call everybody by their surname?”
Matt chuckled, “Occupational hazard.” He responded as Sylvie merely nodded her head. “So what do you say? You can’t come to Australia and not night surf.”
Sylvie contemplated it for a moment. She looked between her hotel and the ocean. It seemed reckless but… she was done playing safe. It had gotten her nowhere, it was time to make a change – and it started right here, right now. Besides – it wasn’t like she had a husband to get back to.
“Ok. You’re on.” Sylvie said as she took off her sundress to reveal a white bikini that highlighted her newly developing tan. For someone who was normally a pastey white, she’d surprised herself by how well she took to the sun.
Sylvie began walking – or marching confidently depending on what way you looked at it – towards the ocean. Matt held back for a little bit and furrowed his eyebrows in further intrigue. Sylvie had no idea what she was getting herself into – and neither did he.
“That was amazing!” Sylvie said with a laugh and a bright smile as she and Matt came out of the water. “I had no idea surfing could feel like that at night. I had no idea the ocean could feel like that at night, it was just – it was bliss.” For a little while, all of Sylvie’s problems felt like they had disappeared. It was just her, the ocean, a surfboard and a pair of blue eyes that often felt like they were piercing her soul.
Matt smiled, “Yeah, you’re not bad at it, Brett.” He complimented her. He truly meant that. At first she was a little wobbly and there were some monumental splashes. Sylvie was also convinced she was going to have some hefty bruises from whacking her legs off the board. But once she got the hang of the technique, she was a natural. Matt was also quick to notice that the weight she appeared to be carrying on her shoulders lifted. She was beaming and laughing and making him laugh just talking about anything and everything. They were having fun – and they both certainly needed it.
Where abouts in the states are you from?”
“Indiana. So no – I haven’t surfed before I came here.” She said with a little laugh. It was remarkable. This guy made her feel so full of light in the hour she had spent with him. She hadn't felt this peaceful for the whole week she had been here with Harrison.
“I guess you’re just a natural.” He complimented as Sylvie turned around to look at him. She hadn’t realised how close he was standing behind her, but she didn’t step back. It was as if something was drawing her to him like a moth is drawn to a flame.
“Yeah. I guess so.” She said quietly as they stood just a breath apart.
They stared at each other; their breathing slightly laboured from rushing out of the ocean. Sylvie involuntarily bit her lower lip in anticipation. What was it about this guy that made her feel so… alive? He moved his head that little bit closer and Sylvie suddenly came back to her senses.
“I can’t” she mumbled out as she closed her eyes and scrunched up her face. If she did anything with this guy, then she was no better than Harrison.
“I was wondering when you were going to bring up the fact that you’re sporting a rather glitzy wedding ring.” He said as he motioned to her hand. Sylvie looked down at it. Even just the sight of the gold bands made her want to scream.
“Yeah, well… not anymore.” She said as she took the ring off and walked a few steps back to the ocean. She stared at it for a brief moment – before flinging her rings into the sea.
“Wow… I’m going to need to hear the story behind this one.” He said with a scoff of confusion. He knew from the moment he saw her there was a story to tell. He’d been trying to work it out all night, but now he was hoping she could put the pieces together for him.
“You just met me and you want to know about my baggage?” Sylvie asked sceptically as she turned around and folded her arms over her chest, like she was trying to protect herself from something. She felt like her vulnerability was shining through right now and she hated it.
Matt ran his hand over his wet hair before his face winced slightly. “You haven’t heard anything until you’ve heard about my luck with love.” He replied with an encouraging smile. It was clear to Sylvie that wasn’t a statement he liked to make. Either his pride wouldn’t allow it or he was genuinely too hurt to talk about it. The fact that he’d shared that with a stranger too didn’t go unnoticed by her.
Sylvie looked to her feet and kicked the sand beneath it, maybe it would be good to get everything off her chest. Even better was the fact that she could tell it to a stranger and not fear anyone placing the blame on her or trying to rationalise Harrison’s stupid actions. In many people’s eyes, Harrison could do no wrong.
“I’m currently on my honeymoon.” She began as Matt nodded his head to show he was listening. “About an hour and a half ago I walked in on my husband in bed with a girl we met on our flight here. All he could say was ‘I didn’t think you’d be back till later.’ So yeah – I’m going to chuck my wedding rings in the sea and hope that the only time I ever see that bastard again is in a lawyer’s office.” She confessed.
“Damn… I’d chuck the rings in the sea too.” He supported with a little awkward laugh. Matt really wasn’t sure what to say. He was expecting something not so nice, but he really wasn’t expect that. This guy sounded like a right piece of work – he picked up a girl on a flight?! Damn.
“Yeah… I’m sure he’ll want me to pay him back for that one, but you know… these things happen” she said with a little shrug and a smirk. She was incredibly grateful that the stranger had rocked up on the beach and somehow allowed her to joke in the midst of the chaos.
Matt held up his hands, “I’ll happily attest to any story you want to tell if needs be.” He said as Sylvie smiled gratefully.
“So…what’s your story?” she asked curiously. If she was going to spill her issues then it only seemed fair that he did the same.
“My fiancée died in a fire a little while back. I thought I was going to be with her forever but uh… it appeared that the universe had other plans.” He told her sadly. “Travelling to the other side of the world and surfing all day and night remind me that there is still some beauty in the world. Even without Hallie in it.”
Sylvie’s face fell a thousand miles. She could only imagine how unbearable that loss must have been to him. She all of a sudden felt stupid for making such a scene over Harrison. Matt’s pain was so deep and it was remarkable to her that he still searched for the beauty in the world even without the person that he loved.
“Do you come out here often?” Sylvie asked. It was the only thing she could really think to say. From the look in his eyes, she could tell that sympathy wasn’t something he wanted from her. He wanted someone to treat him like a human being who was capable of continuing with his life and living it how Hallie would have wanted him to.
Matt shrugged, “Whenever I can.” He didn’t get many furloughs, but he tried to use them wisely – and this was the wisest thing he could think of. He’d travelled a little bit after high school and learned how to surf, so it only came naturally to pick it back up again. In a strange way, these trips had been his saving grace.
“I uh – I have to ask…” Sylvie began as she stepped closer towards him again. “Why did you stop to talk to me? I’m a stranger. You didn’t have to do all this.” Her curiosity about this man was growing by the minute. Most people she knew would have just walked straight by a huffing stranger – but not him. He cared. The look in his eyes proved that.
“Again – occupational hazard. It’s in my job description to care.” He replied. Truth was, it was a little bit more than that. He saw her and he just felt something pulling him towards her. He didn’t know why but it was like the universe was trying to tell him she was someone worth talking to.
“What do you do?”
“I’m a firefighter.” He said, a little reluctantly. He always felt like people’s perceptions of him changed a little when they learnt that fact about it. It’s like they always wanted more. They saw him as some sort of hero and they needed someone like that in their life to rescue them from pain – physical and emotional.
Sylvie smiled widely. “You’re kidding”
“Nope… I’m a lieutenant in the Chicago Fire Department.” He elaborated as Sylvie smiled further at him. He furrowed his brow. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I should have guessed from the occupational hazards… I guess they’re occupational hazards of mine too.”
“… you’re a firefighter?”
Sylvie shook her head, “I’m a paramedic with the Indianapolis Fire Department. Well – I trained in Indianapolis; I work in a little town called Fowlerton. There’s not much going on there… certainly not the big leagues like Chicago.” She said with a little laugh. “But I uh – I’m thinking of making a change.”
“You seem to be making a lot of those tonight.” He observed.
“Well… I came down to this beach and I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was still in my mad phase, hence the talking to myself part which I’m sure you remember…” she joked as Matt smiled at her. She was funny in such a sweet way. He couldn’t get enough of it. “But then I met this guy…” she said as she took another step forward and spoke a little quieter. “and he made me laugh and he reminded me that what I do matters and that there is a heck of a lot of beauty in the world if you look for it in the right places.”
“Wow, must be some guy to teach you all of that…” he teased. “Well, I met a girl here tonight too.” He said as Sylvie quirked a brow.
“Yeah… and she really made me laugh too.” He said with a chuckle as Sylvie blushed slightly. “I haven’t truly laughed in a long time. If she learnt that there’s beauty in this world then I learnt that there’s beauty in the people who live in it too. I learnt that just because the beauty of one person is gone, doesn’t mean there isn’t more to be found in others.” He'd shut himself off after Hallie, but now he felt like it was time to open up again.
Sylvie nodded her head slowly as she stared through his blue eyes. She’d never been made to feel like she’d really made an impact on someone. She wasn’t used to appreciation and admiration. She didn’t know how to respond.
Unfortunately, she didn’t even have the chance to try and respond. A booming voice appeared behind them that sent shivers down Sylvie’s spine.
“Sylvie. Where the hell have you been?!” Harrison questioned as he grabbed Sylvie’s elbow and turned her around to face him. Sylvie immediately snapped her arm away and glared at him. “What do you think you’re doing just running off like that?”
“Where did you want me to go? You were fucking someone else in our hotel room!” she challenged as Harrison’s jaw clenched.
Matt had seen this look before. It was the look of a man who was desperate to get out of this situation. He figured that his next move would be to somehow blame Sylvie for his indiscretions – but he knew that Sylvie could handle herself.
“Sylvie, sweetie, it was a mistake. You were gone all day exploring the coast—”
“So that’s your excuse? I was gone so… what? You were lonely?” she patronised – and rightfully so. There was no excuse that she would buy right now. “You’re disgusting and if you came here expecting me to believe anything you say, you can think again.”
“I guess it was my fault.” He began. Sylvie couldn’t quite believe that he was taking any semblance of responsibility for his actions, so her deep glare didn’t falter as she waited to see where this was going. She watched as his eyes darked and he clicked his tongue against his teeth. Whatever was coming next was no doubt doing to be a brutal, unfair blow.
“I guess it was my fault for marrying such a boring bitch in the first place.”
Sylvie’s mouth fell open slightly in shock at his words before she felt Matt move from behind her.
“Yeah, that doesn’t sit too well with me.” He said before he swiftly lifted his fist and punched Harrison square in the jaw. Harrison fell back onto the sand with a bit of a thump as Matt shook out his fist. That was for a multitude of things. It was for cheating on Sylvie, it was for calling her names – which he sensed hadn’t been for the first time – and it was for his won frustrations with this world. Why was it so damn hard for this man to show some respect?
Sylvie’s mouth fell open further as she gasped slightly. She’d pegged him for the calm, cool and collected type – but it appeared he had his moments of madness when the situation called for it.
Matt turned to Sylvie, his own face holding a sense of shock. “… I haven’t punched someone since high school.”
Sylvie let out a laugh, “Yet you punched a guy for a total stranger?”
Matt smirked, “You’re the best damn stranger I’ve ever met.” He told her honestly. He’d known her for a little over an hour and it was easily the best hour he’d had in a long time.
Harrison still lay on the sand, rubbing the speckle of blood from his lip. “What the—who the hell are you?!” he questioned. Before Matt could say anything, Harrison started up again. “I don’t even care who you are, I am going to sue your ass and you will regret even breathing in my direction!”
Sylvie bent over Harrison’s figure, “If you sue anybody, I’m going to sue you right back in our divorce proceedings which you and I both know won’t go well for you considering what you did.” She taunted as Harrison quietened down. For the first time, it appeared that Harrison realised he’d truly fucked up.
Sylvie turned around and grabbed Matt’s hand before pulling him off the beach.
“Where are we going?” he asked curiously.
Sylvie turned back to look at him, a sense of peace covering her face. “Exploring.”
Sylvie couldn’t remember the last time she’d stayed up all night. She guessed it was maybe prom night or a night in college with her best friends. What she was sure about, however, was that she hadn’t spent a night as good as this maybe ever.
As someone who had frequented the Gold Coast often, Matt took her to some beautiful spots. Firstly, he took her to some secret food spots that served the best fast food she’d ever had. He’d then driven her around the Coast, pointing out some of the most picturesque spots. Somehow, they were still magical in the dark.
By 6am, they had landed at a secluded spot at Snapper Rocks Beach and they were waiting for the sun to rise. All night they had talked like they were the best of friends. They spoke about their lives – the good, the bad, the ugly and the darn right hilarious. They shared tales of their experiences in the fire department, though anything Sylvie told flailed in comparison to the epic calls Matt had been on in Chicago. She got such a rush thinking about it – it was rush she wanted to experience for herself.
While the talking was great, there was something truly perfect about this moment they were spending in silence, just staring out at the ocean and watching the sun as it creeped over the horizon. Sylvie’s head was resting gently on his shoulder as if it belonged there. In one night, they’d made each other feel more comfortable than they had felt in a long time and they didn’t want that comfort to end – but they knew that it had to.
The silence continued as they made their way back to Sylvie’s hotel. She knew she had to face the mess that was waiting for her, but she was doing so with a secure sense of confidence in making the change she’d been desperately looking for.
They stopped just outside of the doors, Matt’s hands securely in his short pockets. Before anything was said, he look a moment to take her and her beauty in. If there was a chance he was never going to see her again, then he was desperate to remember her just like this. Her blonde hair in beachy waves, sun kissed and wide awake and ready to take the world by storm.
“Well…” Sylvie began as she folded her arms. “This was a clandestine meeting I hope the universe allows us to have again.” She told him as she nudged him slightly with her elbow. Right now, it was just him and her in this world. She hoped that if the universe allowed it happen once, it would allow it to happen again.
“Me too.” He replied. “And if you’re still looking for that change when you get back to the states – Chicago is definitely a good place to start.” He advised. He could leave their next meeting up to chance, but he was also eager to make it that little bit easier for them.
“Good to know.” She said with a smile and a nod. She had a funny feeling that he was onto something with that one.
Sylvie realised her arms from her hold, and she took a step forward. She lifted her hand and rested it on the back of Matt’s neck. She wanted to take one last look into his captivating eyes before she returned to reality. They made her wish that this was her reality. She slowly reached up and delicately kissed his cheek.
Matt closed his eyes at the touch. It was perfect but at the same time it didn’t feel like enough – but he knew it would have to be for now.
She pulled back and looked at him again, the faintest – but sincerest – of smiles on her face. “Goodbye Matt Casey” she said in a whisper before her hand slipped away from his neck. She backed away a few steps before she found the courage to turn around completely and walk back into the hotel.
“Goodbye Sylvie Brett.” He whispered as soon as she disappeared behind the doors.
Despite saying goodbye, it didn’t really feel like a goodbye. He had a funny feeling that this strange evening wasn’t the only evening they’d spend together.
How could he let that go when he’d finally found the beauty in the world?